American Idioms and Expressions

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This database is a comprehensive collection of all the American idioms and slang available. American Idioms are many and varied. We hope you enjoy our collection. We are adding more all the time. .

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Let the cat out of the bag
What does "Let the cat out of the bag" mean?
To divulge a secret.Don't let the cat out of the bag about Susan's Christmas present.

At medieval markets, unscrupulous traders would display a pig for sale. However, the pig was always given to the customer in a bag, with strict instructions not to open the bag until they were some way away. The trader would hand the customer a bag containing something that wriggled, and it was only later that the buyer would find he'd been conned when he opened the bag to reveal that it contained a cat, not a pig. Therefore, "letting the cat out of the bag" revealed the secret of the con trick.
Living hand to mouth
What does "Living hand to mouth" mean?
To be poor, to have difficulty supporting yourself.Most people who marry young start out living hand to mouth.

During the Great Depression and other times of economic scarcity, people often did not know when or where the next meal was coming from. In such a case, when you get something in your hand that can be eaten, it goes into the mouth immediately: ergo "hand to mouth."
Long in the tooth
What does "Long in the tooth" mean?
To be getting old.Daddy needs a new Porsche. The old one is getting a bit long in the tooth.

Strange as it may seem this phrase's origin is closely related to the origin of the phrase "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth".
The age of a horse can be roughly determined by examining its teeth, since a horse's gums recede as they age. The longer the teeth of a horse appear to be, the older the horse.
lend someone a hand
What does "lend someone a hand" mean?
help someone. "I can't do this alone. Can you lend me ahand?"

leave well enough alone
What does "leave well enough alone" mean?
do nothing (because doing something would make things worse)."Don't tell Jim how to discipline his children.Leave well enough alone."

Let sleeping dogs lie.
What does "Let sleeping dogs lie." mean?
Don't cause problems by doing something when it isn't necessary. "I know that what Julie said made you angry, butlet sleeping dogs lie. If you say or do anything, you'll only make things worse."

live from hand to mouth
What does "live from hand to mouth" mean?
survive on very little money; have only enough money
to pay for basic needs.
"Chuck and Alice are living from hand to mouthsince Chuck lost his job."

live and let live
What does "live and let live" mean?
don't unnecessarily make things difficult;
do as you wish and let others do as they wish.
"I'm not going to criticize Alice's family justbecause their habits are a little strange. My motto is 'Live and let live.'"

lousy
What does "lousy" mean?
terrible; very bad. "Why did you speak so rudely to your grandmother? Thatwas a lousy thing to do!"

lace into (someone)
What does "lace into (someone)" mean?
attack or scold someoneThe mother laced into her child when he came home late from the movie.

lace into (something)
What does "lace into (something)" mean?
devour/eat foodWe laced into our dinner as soon as we entered the house.

lady killer
What does "lady killer" mean?
a man who some women find very charming and attractiveThe man in the movie was a lady killer who broke the hearts of many women.

lady`s man
What does "lady`s man" mean?
a man who is popular with womenHe is a lady`s man and always seems to have a woman interested in him.

laid-back
What does "laid-back" mean?
relaxed, not worried by thingsOur teacher has a very laid-back attitude about how long we should spend preparing for our class.

land of Nod
What does "land of Nod" mean?
sleepI entered the land of Nod as soon as my head hit the pillow.

land on one`s feet/both feet
What does "land on one`s feet/both feet" mean?
come out of a bad situation successfullyMy friend always manages to land on his feet no matter how difficult the situation is.

land up (somewhere or in some situation)
What does "land up (somewhere or in some situation)" mean?
come to be in a certain place or situationWe landed up in the suburbs although we were trying to go downtown.

landslide victory
What does "landslide victory" mean?
a very substantial victory (usually in an election)My favorite candidate won a landslide victory in the election.

lap up (something)
What does "lap up (something)" mean?
to eat or drink something with the tongue (as a dog or cat would)The dog lapped up the milk that his owner had given him.

lap up (something)
What does "lap up (something)" mean?
eagerly take in or accept some information/praiseHe lapped up the praise that his boss gave him for the recently completed project.

lapse into a coma
What does "lapse into a coma" mean?
go into a comaThe woman lapsed into a coma soon after the accident.

lash out (at someone)
What does "lash out (at someone)" mean?
attack someone with wordsThey were walking along the beach when the girl suddenly lashed out in anger at her boyfriend.

lash out (at someone)
What does "lash out (at someone)" mean?
suddenly try to hit someoneThe boy suddenly lashed out and hit the man who was sitting beside him.

last but not least
What does "last but not least" mean?
in the last place but not the least importantLast but not least the boy came up to the front of the class to receive his report card.

last will and testament
What does "last will and testament" mean?
one's will (especially its latest version)After my grandfather's funeral my uncle read out his last will and testament.

late in life
What does "late in life" mean?
when one is olderSome very great painters never started painting until rather late in life.

late in the day
What does "late in the day" mean?
far along in a project or activityWe received some new instructions for our marketing effort but it was a little late in the day to change our plans.

laugh all the way to the bank
What does "laugh all the way to the bank" mean?
make money in a way that other people think is impossibleI was laughing all the way to the bank with the money that I made from selling drinks at the sports stadium.

laugh off (something)
What does "laugh off (something)" mean?
to not take something seriouslyThe man laughed off the attempt by his boss to make him come to work on time.

laugh out of the other side of one's mouth
What does "laugh out of the other side of one's mouth" mean?
change from being happy to being sadMy friend was laughing out of the other side of his mouth when he learned that he would get a ticket for parking his car in the wrong place.

laugh (something) out of court
What does "laugh (something) out of court" mean?
dismiss (a legal case) as being ridiculousThey laughed the case out of court when the woman tried to sue the dog's owner after the dog ate her flowers.

laugh up one's sleeve
What does "laugh up one's sleeve" mean?
laugh quietly to oneselfI was laughing up my sleeve when I learned that my friend would have to clean the bathroom at work and not me.

launch forth (on something)
What does "launch forth (on something)" mean?
start out on somethingOur boss launched forth on a long criticism of how we were doing our jobs.

lay an egg
What does "lay an egg" mean?
fail to win the interest or favor of an audienceAlthough the magician was supposed to be good, his performance was terrible and it laid an egg with the audience.

lay away (something)
What does "lay away (something)" mean?
save somethingThe couple are trying to lay away some money for their holiday next year.

lay down one's life (for someone or something)
What does "lay down one's life (for someone or something)" mean?
sacrifice one's life for someone or somethingThe young man layed down his life trying to protect the property of his company.

lay down the law
What does "lay down the law" mean?
tell someone what to do by using your power or influenceThe new manager plans to lay down the law to the workers regarding long lunch breaks.

lay eyes on (someone or something)
What does "lay eyes on (someone or something)" mean?
see someone or somethingI have never laid eyes on a more beautiful dog in my life.

lay hold of (something)
What does "lay hold of (something)" mean?
get possession of somethingIf I can lay hold of some tools I will help you fix your toilet.

lay in (something)
What does "lay in (something)" mean?
store up a supply of something, get and store something for future useThey are trying to lay in as much food as possible before winter comes.

lay/light into (someone)
What does "lay/light into (someone)" mean?
attack someone with wordsAs soon as I came into work this morning my boss laid/lit into me about my poor sales performance last month.

lay/light into (something)
What does "lay/light into (something)" mean?
do/eat something with much energy and enthusiasmHe laid into the steak as soon as the waiter brought it to his table.

lay it on thick
What does "lay it on thick" mean?
praise someone too muchMy friend began to lay it on thick when I told him about my new job.

lay low
What does "lay low" mean?
to hide, to keep out of sight for a period of timeHe decided to lay low until his friend forgot that he had damaged his car.

lay off (someone)
What does "lay off (someone)" mean?
stop bothering someone, leave someone aloneThe coach told the players to lay off the new player so that he could relax before the game.

lay off (something)
What does "lay off (something)" mean?
stop using or taking something bad (alcohol/drugs/chocolate/cigarettes)I was told by my doctor to lay off smoking or I would be sick in the future.

lay off (workers/staff)
What does "lay off (workers/staff) " mean?
reduce the number of workers when business is badSix hundred workers at the automobile factory were recently laid off.

lay one`s cards on the table
What does "lay one`s cards on the table" mean?
let someone know one`s position and feelings openly, deal honestly with somethingHe decided to lay his cards on the table and tell his boss about the job offer from the other company.

lay one's hands on (someone)
What does "lay one's hands on (someone)" mean?
do violence to someone, harm/hurt someoneThe man said that if he ever lays hands on the person who stole his car he will take him directly to the police.

lay one's hands on (something)
What does "lay one's hands on (something)" mean?
find something, acquire somethingIf I can lay my hands on a slide projector, I will show you the pictures of my holiday tonight.

lay out (money)
What does "lay out (money)" mean?
spend or pay some moneyMy friend will have to lay out a lot of money for his new apartment.

lay out (something)
What does "lay out (something)" mean?
plan somethingWe will lay out our plan for the new building at the next meeting.

lay (someone) to rest
What does "lay (someone) to rest" mean?
to bury someoneWe laid my uncle to rest in a nice ceremony last night.

lay (something) on (someone)
What does "lay (something) on (someone)" mean?
direct blame or guilt on someoneThe company tried to lay the computer problems on one of the managers.

lay (something) on the line
What does "lay (something) on the line" mean?
speak directly and firmly about somethingThe librarian finally had to lay it on the line and told everyone not to bring drinks into the library.

lay (something) to rest
What does "lay (something) to rest" mean?
get rid of something, put something away permanently, stopThey have been trying to lay to rest the rumors about the financial problems in the company.

lay the blame on (someone or something)
What does "lay the blame on (someone or something)" mean?
blame someone or somethingWe laid the blame on my friend for making us late for the concert.

lay the groundwork for (something)
What does "lay the groundwork for (something)" mean?
to build the foundation or basis of something, to do the basic work that will lead to future successThe new training program will lay the groundwork for the future success of the company.

lay up (a vessel)
What does "lay up (a vessel)" mean?
take a vessel out of active service, put a boat in a boat dock or a garageThe weather was getting cold so they decided to lay up their boat for the winter.

lay up (something)
What does "lay up (something)" mean?
collect a supply of something, save something for future use, store somethingWe are planning to lay up some canned fruit for the winter.

lay waste (to something)
What does "lay waste (to something)" mean?
destroy and leave something in ruins, wreck somethingThe army troops laid waste to the enemy territory.

layaway plan
What does "layaway plan" mean?
a plan in which someone pays part of some money that is owed and then pays the rest later and the store keeps the item until the full price has been paidI decided to buy the television set on the department store`s layaway plan.

lead a dog`s life
What does "lead a dog`s life" mean?
live a hard life, work hard and be treated unkindlyHe says that he has been leading a dog`s life since he started his new job.

lead off
What does "lead off" mean?
begin, start, openThe golfer was the first to lead off in the tournament.

lead (someone) by the nose
What does "lead (someone) by the nose" mean?
have full control of someone, make or persuade someone to do what you wantHe isn`t very aggressive and always lets his boss lead him by the nose.

lead (someone) down the garden path
What does "lead (someone) down the garden path" mean?
deceive someoneThe woman was leading her boyfriend down the garden path when she promised to marry him.

lead (someone) on
What does "lead (someone) on" mean?
insincerely encourage someoneI think my friend was leading me on when he told me about the new job.

lead (someone) on a merry chase
What does "lead (someone) on a merry chase" mean?
lead someone on a chase with no purpose The criminal led the police on a merry chase before they finally arrested him.

lead (someone) to believe (something)
What does "lead (someone) to believe (something)" mean?
imply something to someoneThe salesman led me to believe that he would be able to deliver the product within a week.

lead (someone) to do (something)
What does "lead (someone) to do (something)" mean?
cause someone to do somethingThe loud scream from the dining room led the chef to ruin his main dish of the evening.

lead/live the life of Riley
What does "lead/live the life of Riley" mean?
live an easy life of luxury, live a pleasant lifeMy father has been leading the life of Riley since he retired from his job.

lead the way
What does "lead the way" mean?
go first and show others how to go somewhere, guide someoneI had to lead the way because nobody knew where the new office was located.

lead up to (something)
What does "lead up to (something)" mean?
prepare the way for somethingThe concerts in the park were leading up to the final band contest of the music festival.

leaf through (something)
What does "leaf through (something)" mean?
look through a book/magazine/newspaper without reading it in detailI leafed through several magazines while I was sitting in the doctor's office.

leak out (something)
What does "leak out (something)" mean?
disclose special/secret information to the pressThe information about the illegal donations were leaked out to the press.

lean on (someone)
What does "lean on (someone)" mean?
pressure someone by blackmail or threats of physical violence to make him or her do somethingThe gang decided to lean on the small shop owner to get him to sell his property.

lean over backwards (to do something or to help someone)
What does "lean over backwards (to do something or to help someone)" mean?
do everything possible to please someoneMy cousin leaned over backwards to help my father when he was sick.

lean toward (doing something)
What does "lean toward (doing something)" mean?
tend toward doing somethingAt the moment we are leaning toward buying a laptop computer rather than a desktop computer.

leap to conclusions
What does "leap to conclusions" mean?
decide something without having all the factsOur teacher leaped to conclusions when she accused the boy of breaking the window.

learn (something) by heart
What does "learn (something) by heart" mean?
memorize somethingI quickly learned my library card number by heart.

learn (something) by rote
What does "learn (something) by rote" mean?
memorize something without thinking about what is being learnedThe children learned the material by rote but they didn't really understand it.

learn (something) from the bottom up
What does "learn (something) from the bottom up" mean?
learn something thoroughly from the beginningThe young man learned about the company from the bottom up before his father retired.

learn (something) the hard way
What does "learn (something) the hard way" mean?
learn something by experience (often something unpleasant)The young man learned things the hard way when he was sent to jail for stealing the computer.

learn the ropes
What does "learn the ropes" mean?
learn how to do a jobHe is a new employee and is still learning the ropes.

learn to live with (something)
What does "learn to live with (something)" mean?
learn to adapt to something unpleasant or painfulMy mother and father must learn to live with not having a supermarket next door to them.

least of all
What does "least of all" mean?
the least, of smallest importanceI don't like any of the choices offered, least of all the one that we were forced to choose.

leave a bad taste in one`s mouth
What does "leave a bad taste in one`s mouth" mean?
leave a bad impression, make one feel disgustedThe way that the company fired the workers left a bad taste in everyone`s mouth.

leave a lot to be desired
What does "leave a lot to be desired" mean?
be inadequateThe job performance of the new employee leaves a lot to be desired.

leave no stone unturned
What does "leave no stone unturned" mean?
try in every way to do something, do everything possibleThe police left no stone unturned when they were looking for the little girl who was lost.

leave one to one's fate
What does "leave one to one's fate" mean?
abandon someone to whatever may happenThe tour was suddenly canceled and we were left to our fate regarding an attempt to get our money refunded.

leave one's mark on (someone or something)
What does "leave one's mark on (someone or something)" mean?
affect the behavior and performance of another person or of somethingThe former president left his mark on the way that the company was run for many years after he retired.

leave oneself wide open for (something)
What does "leave oneself wide open for (something)" mean?
fail to protect oneself from criticism or ridiculeThe actions of our manager left him wide open for criticism from everybody in our company.

leave (someone) alone
What does "leave (someone) alone" mean?
to not disturb someone"Please leave me alone so I can finish this essay."

leave (someone or something) behind
What does "leave (someone or something) behind" mean?
leave someone or something somewhereI left my coat behind in the restaurant.

leave (someone) flat
What does "leave (someone) flat" mean?
fail to entertain or stimulate someone, leave someone with no moneyMy friend's attempt at making a joke left everyone in the room flat.

leave (someone) for dead
What does "leave (someone) for dead" mean?
abandon someone as being deadThe hiker was left for dead when the rescue group could find no indication of where he was.

leave (someone) high and dry
What does "leave (someone) high and dry" mean?
leave someone helplessThe employees were left high and dry when the company went out of business.

leave (someone) holding the bag
What does "leave (someone) holding the bag" mean?
leave someone to take the blame for somethingMy friend left me holding the bag when he ran away from the accident.

leave (someone or something) in (someone's) hands
What does "leave (someone or something) in (someone's) hands" mean?
give someone control of or responsibility for someone or somethingI left the planning for the barbecue in my father's hands.

leave (someone) in peace
What does "leave (someone) in peace" mean?
stop bothering someoneThe woman was happy when her family went out and left her in peace for several hours.

leave (someone) in the lurch
What does "leave (someone) in the lurch" mean?
desert or leave someone alone and in trouble, refuse to help or support someoneMy coworker left me in the lurch when he didn`t come and help me as he had promised earlier in the day.

leave (someone) out in the cold
What does "leave (someone) out in the cold" mean?
exclude someoneWe made an effort not to leave my friend out in the cold when we were planning the birthday party.

leave (something) hanging (in the air)
What does "leave (something) hanging (in the air)" mean?
leave something undecided or unsettledWhether or not they will be leaving next year was left hanging in the air at the end of the meeting.

leave (something) on
What does "leave (something) on" mean?
leave something running or operatingI always leave the lights on when I am working around the house.

leave (something) open
What does "leave (something) open" mean?
leave a date or time unscheduledI plan to leave next Wednesday open so that I can meet my friend for lunch.

leave (something) out
What does "leave (something) out" mean?
omit somethingHe told me about the accident but he left out some of the main points.

leave/let well enough alone
What does "leave/let well enough alone" mean?
be satisfied with something that is good enough"You should leave well enough alone and be happy with your work schedule the way it is."

leave word with (someone)
What does "leave word with (someone)" mean?
leave a message with someoneI left word with my father to have my mother phone me tonight.

leg work
What does "leg work" mean?
routine work (that often involves walking)He was forced to do all of the leg work for the meeting because his assistant was sick.

lend an ear (to someone)
What does "lend an ear (to someone)" mean?
listen to someoneI was asked to lend an ear to my friend so he could tell me about his problems.

lend color to (something)
What does "lend color to (something)" mean?
provide an interesting accompaniment for somethingThe beautiful background to the orchestra helped to lend color to the musical performance.

lend (oneself/itself) to (something)
What does "lend (oneself/itself) to (something)" mean?
be adaptable to somethingThe small hall does not lend itself to having a very good musical performance.

lend (someone) a hand
What does "lend (someone) a hand" mean?
give someone some helpI asked my friend to lend me a hand to move the furniture.

less than pleased
What does "less than pleased" mean?
not pleasedMy father was less than pleased when I returned his car three hours late last night.

lesser (of the two)
What does "lesser (of the two)" mean?
the smaller one of the twoWe chose the lesser of the two cars when we went to the car rental agency.

lesser of two evils
What does "lesser of two evils" mean?
the less bad thing of two bad thingsThe voters had to choose the lesser of two evils when they had to choose between the two candidates for mayor.

let alone (something)
What does "let alone (something)" mean?
not to mention something, to say nothing of somethingI don`t have enough money to go to a movie let alone go on a holiday.

let bygones be bygones
What does "let bygones be bygones" mean?
forget about problems that happened in the past"We need to let bygones be bygones and forget about our past differences."

let down one`s hair
What does "let down one`s hair" mean?
relax, act freely and naturallyEverybody at the party let down their hair and had a good time.

let go of (something)
What does "let go of (something)" mean?
release somethingHe let go of the rope and the suitcase fell off the luggage rack.

let go with (something)
What does "let go with (something)" mean?
shout something outThe child let go with a loud scream when he saw the dog.

let grass grow under one`s feet
What does "let grass grow under one`s feet" mean?
be idle, be lazy, waste timeHe is always working hard and never lets grass grow under his feet.

let it all hang out
What does "let it all hang out" mean?
let the truth be known, be open about somethingShe decided to let it all hang out and tell her friend about her problems with her boyfriend.

let it go/lay
What does "let it go/lay" mean?
forget about it, leave it alone"You should let it go and stop worrying about what she did to you last year."

let it rip
What does "let it rip" mean?
let something go at full speed, take off all restraintsHe let it rip and left the shore in the motorboat.

let off steam
What does "let off steam" mean?
get rid of your extra energy or strong feelings by doing some activityHe was very angry at first but he has let off steam and has calmed down now.

let on
What does "let on" mean?
to reveal, to inform"Please don`t let on that you saw me at the movie last night."

let on
What does "let on" mean?
try to make people believe something, pretendHe tried to let on that he didn`t want the job but actually he did.

let one's emotions show
What does "let one's emotions show" mean?
be emotional (where it is not appropriate)The mayor let his emotions show when his plan for the new stadium was defeated by the city council members.

let oneself go
What does "let oneself go" mean?
become less constrainedI went to the party and let myself go for the evening.

let oneself/something go
What does "let oneself/something go" mean?
not take care of oneself/somethingThe woman has been letting herself go recently and doesn't even bother to comb her hair regularly

let out (clothes/a rope)
What does "let out (clothes/a rope)" mean?
make clothes longer or looser, allow a rope to slip out little by littleI had to go to the tailors to have them let out my sports jacket.

let out (some kind of sound)
What does "let out (some kind of sound)" mean?
make some kind of noise or soundThe dog let out a strange sound before running out of the house.

let out (someone)
What does "let out (someone)" mean?
dismiss or be dismissed (from class or practice etc.)Everyone was let out of class early yesterday because of the bad weather.

let out (something)
What does "let out (something)" mean?
allow to go out or escapeI let out our dog this morning and he hasn`t come home yet.

let out (something)
What does "let out (something)" mean?
allow to be known, tellThey let out the details of the restructuring plan late last night so we haven`t had time to talk about them yet.

let sleeping dogs lie
What does "let sleeping dogs lie" mean?
don`t make trouble if you don`t have to"You should let sleeping dogs lie and not worry about what your friend said to you last summer."

let (someone) down
What does "let (someone) down" mean?
fail to do as well as expected, disappoint someoneHe let his parents down when he failed the university entrance exams.

let (someone) down easy
What does "let (someone) down easy" mean?
tell someone some disappointing news in a way that makes them feel goodI will talk to her tomorrow and try and let her down easy about her not getting the promotion.

let (someone) go
What does "let (someone) go" mean?
discharge someone from a job, fire someoneThe company has decided to let several hundred workers go in order to become profitable again.

let (someone) have it
What does "let (someone) have it" mean?
hit someone hard, scold someone angrilyHe let the other man have it when they had a fight on the bus.

let (someone) have it (with both barrels)
What does "let (someone) have it (with both barrels)" mean?
attack someone verballyThe woman let her husband have it when he came home late from work without phoning.

let (someone) in on (something)
What does "let (someone) in on (something)" mean?
tell someone a secretWe let our friend in on our secret plan to sell our apartment and buy a house.

let (someone) know (about something)
What does "let (someone) know (about something)" mean?
tell/inform someone about something"Let me know when you are ready to go to the movie."

let (someone) off
What does "let (someone) off" mean?
permit someone to leave a car/train/boat/plane or other transportationThe train stopped at a very small town and let the young woman off.

let (someone) off (easy)
What does "let (someone) off (easy)" mean?
release someone with little or no punishmentThe judge let the man off easy because he seemed to be sincere in his apology for his crime.

let (someone) off the hook
What does "let (someone) off the hook" mean?
excuse someone from a penalty or promiseHe let me off the hook and I didn`t have to stay after work and help clean the office.

let (something) go
What does "let (something) go" mean?
pay no attention to something, neglect somethingShe seems to be letting her appearance go since she lost her job.

let (something) go
What does "let (something) go" mean?
allow something to pass, do nothing about somethingAlthough I was angry at his remark I decided to let it go.

let (something) loose
What does "let (something) loose" mean?
set something free, release something being heldThey decided to let the injured bird loose in the park.

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